So what shall it be?


After a hot yesterday, the stars were popping out.  There would be no moon until much later.  So what should it be?  Observe Saturn in the 10″?  Learn a new constellation using the 5″ (it’s a more nimble cruiser)?  Lie back and look for early Perseids?

I started with item 1.  Saturn is long past opposition, and by 9 pm it is already westering.  I lined up in a twilight sky, but, instead of floating in its usual serenity, Saturn was stretching and contracting like a gelatinous invertebrate, and even appearing to twist itself in figures-of-eight.  The heat of the day was still radiating from every surface, and the resulting turbulent air currents were making the planet unobservable.  Waiting, waiting: the Space Station whipped across the sky, brilliant and silent in its borrowed light.  Waiting, waiting: the earth cooled as the sky darkened, but Saturn sank inexorably into the hedge, still gyrating.

Item 2:  Learn a new constellation.  For this purpose the 5″ is better, but it was already late and I didn’t have the energy to get out another telescope.  So I hastily skimmed a star chart and aimed the lumbering Dob at Ophiuchus, starting with the obvious stars.  I picked out the main pattern, and at one point found a most beautiful double star – one brilliant gold, with a subtle purple partner.  I then clumsily knocked the scope out of position before I had established my double star’s identity, and couldn’t find my way back.

Item 3:  Look for early Perseids.  I packed up the 10″, running with water from a heavy dew, and settled into my garden chair with a blanket against a now chilly breeze. Pegasus lay before me, the necessary Perseus rising to my left.  I scanned dutifully, and saw never a Perseid, only one random meteor which perversely flew with a silent fizz in the opposite direction.  In the small hours hush I listened to the local stream running with an oddly dry rattle and crepitation, and in half an hour was gone.  A hundred meteors may have burst over my unconscious head, but I saw nothing. I lurched, drunken with sleep, to my bed.

6 responses »

    • That’s very strong-minded of you – I crawled off to bed about 3am. And no Perseids for either of us; isn’t astronomy a maddening activity? But sleeping under the stars was a good thing in and for itself.

      • I’ve entered a poem about sleeping under the stars for the Havant Lit Fest, which I wrote a couple of years ago after a spectacular such night in France. I might prejudice my entry by making it public, but if you’d like to see it then send me a message via the contact page on my blog.

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